Producers Guild of India has hit back at sections of the exhibition sector who seem to be upset with an OTT platform's move to release films directly before their theatrical release. In a statement issued on Friday, the guild wrote that we are in unprecedented times, facing one of the "greatest public health and economic emergencies of our lifetimes". "This is a time for the entire film industry to come together with empathy and support for the difficult predicament that each of our constituents finds themselves in - from producers, distributors, exhibitors, daily wage earners and technicians, to the thousands of people whose lives and livelihoods are in some way dependent on our industry.
"Hence at a time like this, it is disappointing to see abrasive and unconstructive messaging from some of our colleagues in the exhibition sector. Statements that call for 'retributive measures' against producers who decide to take their movies direct to OTT platforms - especially at a time when cinemas are unfortunately closed for the foreseeable future - do not lend themselves to a constructive or collaborative dialogue on the way forward for the industry."
The Producers Guild statement comes in the wake of yesterday's statement by INOX, denouncing the release of feature films directly on the OTT platform Amazon Prime Video, bypassing theatrical release.
The Guild's statement suggested the production sector (just like the exhibition sector) is suffering "hundreds of crores of losses on a daily basis - - Elaborate and expensive sets erected for under-production films have had to be taken down due to no date in sight for shoots to resume, with the sunk cost of the set and studio rentals to be borne completely by producers - as insurers refuse to cover the cost".
The statement further read: "Shoot schedules have had to be abruptly cancelled due to the lockdown, with huge cancellation charges being borne completely by the producer - again with no support from insurers. Interest costs are mounting on amounts raised to fund films, with producers having to bear this additional burden with no date in sight for cinemas to re-open; in fact with the knowledge that cinemas may be one of the last sectors of the service sector likely to be given permission to re-open.
"Re-opening of cinemas is bound to be staggered across the country, with each State government rightly making its own decision on the appropriate time to re-open cinemas in their State, depending on the intensity of the outbreak there. Producers of Hindi movies will have to wait for cinemas across the entire country to re-open, as the economics of the business require an All India release. For cinemas to be open across the entire country, it is clear we are sometime away."
The statement added that "even when cinemas reopen across India, there is "no guarantee that the overseas theatrical market (which is a key component of the economics of Hindi films) will have resumed. Even if it has in some countries, it might not have in others, hence leading to additional loss of revenue for a producer. When cinemas reopen, we should be prepared for lower occupancies. One, because of the social distancing norms that will be both mandated and necessary for public safety. Secondly, because of the inevitable concern that cinema public spaces - goers will have about venturing back into."
The guild also pointed out that there will be a huge backlog of releases, and the smaller and medium scale films especially will suffer from suboptimal showcasing in addition to above.
"All the concerns given this combination of factors, it is only natural that producers who have already invested heavily in their films with theatrical revenue assumptions that are no longer feasible, will seek out all avenues available to recover their investment and to stay in business. At a time like this, it is important that each stakeholder understands and empathises with the predicament of the other, rather than adopting an adversarial stance which is counterproductive for the entire value chain."
The Producers Guild also emphasised that they are unequivocally and passionately supportive of the theatrical release of films, and a theatrical release will always be the preference for movies that were conceptualised as cinematic experiences.
"But these are unprecedented times for all the reasons mentioned above, and it is imperative to see things in that context. For producers to continue to keep 'producing' the movies that light up our cinema screens, they need to continue to be in business in the first place. The production fraternity would like to work collaboratively with the exhibition sector to ensure that once cinemas do reopen across the country, we do all we can to bring audiences back in large numbers to experience our movies in the way they were always meant to be enjoyed - at the theatres."
This comes a day after the multiplex chain INOX issued a statement, the gist part of which is: "The decision of production house to deviate from the globally prevalent content windowing practice is alarming and disconcerting. Cinemas and content creators have always been into mutually beneficial partnerships, where one's action provided fillip to another's revenues."
On Thursday, it was confirmed that "Gulabo Sitabo" will get a digital release. Now, amid the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown as multiplexes remain shut, the streaming platform Amazon Prime Video has announced six more highly-anticipated Indian films, including "Shakuntala Devi" starring Vidya Balan, for digital premieres over the next months.
Five other major films in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada languages have also been lined up straight for release on Amazon Prime as of now.